“If my people who are called by my name. Will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
I’m starting to become numb. It seems like every day brings another situation that has me stretching my arms to heaven with my fists clenched, shouting to the sky “how much longer Lord?” The second week in July seemed to be a particularly stark example of hell coming to earth. In the space of one week we watched 2 men killed during encounters with police; one live on Facebook. Then, before we could catch our breath 5 police officers were gunned down in the line of duty. Gunned down while doing their jobs; protecting protesting citizens. That was just in one week, but on the fabric of our souls are etched all the others; so many names, so many cities they start to run together. But that week in particular was hard.
And I looked around and waited. Waited to see what we would do. What the church would do. We’re always very anxious to speak up when it comes to who should and should not be allowed to marry each other; when it comes to religious liberty, when it comes to the rights of the unborn. Would we be just as quick to wade into the quagmire that is racial tension in America? Or would we stay silent; too afraid of what some within our own walls would say if we ventured into this whole mess.
I spent the second week of July in intense pain. My soul was grieved. I saw the leader of my denomination reach out and speak on the need to pray for the families of the 5 police officers killed. I agreed with him 100%. I wondered where were his words on the need to pray for the families of the 2 men killed earlier in the week. I decided it’s best not to sit and wonder when you can ask straight out. So I did. I sent him a message. I told him about the racially diverse church I go to in Philadelphia. I told him about how people I loved and cared about on both sides where in so much pain. I asked him why he chose to only speak about one tragedy and not the other. I sent him a link to a piece the head of the Southern Baptist Comission wrote called “How Pastors Can Address the Shootings This Sunday” and asked if he considered a nuanced approach like this. I spoke of my love for the church and all it could do, but was honest about the pain I felt from his lack of willingness to speak.
I got my answer. And it contained lots of phrases I had heard before. Phrases like “we don’t have all the facts yet” “things have not been clarified” “Our nation is in desperate need of revival.” He reminded me a call had been put out to focus on Black Lives Matter for one Sunday (I noted the Sunday that was called for was 2 years ago). None of the phrases were untrue and yet they left me supremely unsatisfied. And I couldn’t figure out why. And then, my pastor posted this update to Facebook.
“I haven’t posted much this week. Frankly, I feel like I have more to understand than I have to say. But my heart is hurting for so many of my friends. My brothers and sisters. Our church is diverse. Black. White. Police Officers. Just about every person you can imagine. Some of us were protesting this week. Some of us didn’t understand why anyone was protesting this week. Only Jesus can make a family out of us all. Our next family gathering is Sunday at 10:00 and 11:30 am. We need to begin a real conversation. I’m honestly not sure what I’m going to say. I just know that what I was planning to say three days ago feels less urgent now. Please spend a little extra time preparing your heart. The church is God’s answer to the cries of our country. May God meet us, fill us, and send us out with grace and truth.”
And I wept. With relief and hope. And I knew why I was so unsatisfied with the reply I received. In times of crisis; in times of great pain; in times of intensity brought on by complicated issues; those are the times the church needs to roll up its sleeves and say “Let’s go.Let’s do the hard work”
The issue is complex?
Not too complex for God
People feel so passionately; listening to each other is impossible
Not impossible for God
Someone might get offended
What if we do it the wrong way? Say the wrong thing?
If God goes with us into the land of giants; what have we to fear?
What if The Church become known as more concerned about how to create racial and economic reconciliation than with who can use what bathroom? Or who can and can’t make a cake for a wedding? What if, when the world threw up their hands and said “It’s too hard. What will we do? How we will fix it?” The Church said “We have the answer”Oh sure we may not have the exact practical answer. I’m not saying the church needs to be on the front lines of new laws and economic policies (although I’m sure we need those). Rather, the church should be the model to the rest of the world on how vastly different people with different hurts live and breath and do community together.
I’ll be honest, sometimes I feel embarrassed by the church and of my brothers and sisters. But that Sunday when my pastor said that the work “begins with us” I felt proud to be in the body of Christ. To be in a body that wasn’t going to hide from the difficult questions behind a smokescreen of “wait and see” and “we can’t really know.”
That day a local Philadelphia pastor stepped into a quagmire that his superiors felt was too complicated for them to wade in themselves.And I thank God for him; and my church family. My brothers and sisters. Who are not uniform in thought but who are uniform in love. Love for God and love for each other. Uniform in their desire to humble themselves, pray and seek the face of God. Because we know that when we do that. He will heal our land.
Please check out the link to the sermon I mentioned here. I hope it ministers to you the way I know it ministered to everyone in the room the day it was first preached.